The Pope's Exorcist
is an energetic ride through familiar material that's been made with enough craft and a sense of humor that I found myself smiling through a lot of it. And even though it is based on the writings of a real person, I didn't believe a second of it was true, nor do I think I was supposed to. Director Julius Avery boils the exorcism movie down to its bare essentials here, and still manages to grab our attention.
The film's secret weapon is its star, Russell Crowe, who after years of playing heavier action-filled roles gets to have a bit of fun here as Father Amorth, the Pope's personal exorcist who has a few basic rules when dealing with demons. One of his key rules is to have a sense of humor, as demons hate humor. The movie remembers this as well, and gets to display it, such as a scene when Amorth is confronting a demon-possessed little boy, who tells him that he is the Father's nightmare. Amorth's response is, "France winning the World Cup"? It's little moments like this that caught me off guard during the familiar mysterious knocking on the walls of a dark, secluded house, or the deep rumblings on the soundtrack that seem to come from the pits below.
Mind you, all of that stuff that comes with the exorcism movie territory has been done well here. It might not be new, but it's at least not lazy, and the cast is selling the material the right way. Outside of Crowe, the film's focus is a dysfunctional family with a mother trying to keep it together (Alex Essoe), a rebellious teenage daughter (Laurel Marsden) and a frightened little boy (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) who has been rendered mute ever since he witnessed his father die in a car accident. They're renovating a house, which happens to awaken a demon buried deep within, and soon the youngest child is the primary target of the evil force. Amorth is sent to Spain to investigate the case, and is partnered with a young priest (Daniel Zovatto) with a troubled past.
The reason behind the demonic haunting and what the two discover underneath the house is too incredible to be believed, but it works in the moment, because The Pope's Exorcist
is the kind of fast-paced thriller that captures your attention at the moment, and leaves you shaking your head as you walk out the door. At least it seems to know that its ludicrous, with not just its sense of humor, but also with how over the top it is in its violence and intensity.. This is a movie that plays to the rafters, and can probably be heard two cinemas over as it plays out, but isn't that what you expect from a movie like this? The movie has enough technical merit and Crowe's lead performance were enough to keep me invested, even when I wasn't really buying what was on the screen. It's a movie that knows what it's selling, and how to sell it.
Maybe it's because I saw this immediately following the lifeless Mafia Mamma
, and was ready for something overblown with life and goofy such as this. You can call The Pope's Exorcist
a lot of things, but you can't accuse it of being boring.